Olympics, Oscars and the Nobel - a laggard's tale
The Olympics have been played since 1896. India, which has been participating since 1900, has won 8 golds, 2 silver and 1 bronze - all in field hockey till 1980. India won one gold for rifle shooting by Abhinav Bindra in 2008. It has also won bronze medals for wrestling (Sushil Kumar in 2008), weight lifting (Karnam Malleshwari in 2000) and boxing (Vijender Singh in 2008). A silver was won by Rajyavardhan Rathore in shooting in 2004. The highest medal haul was in 2008 when three medals including a gold was won. With a total tally of 20 medals, it matches Latvia which began participating in the Olympics in 1924 and has a population of about two lakh.
With Gagan Narang winning a bronze, we have just surpassed Latvia and are on par with Morocco, with a population of 32 million, and Thailand, a land of 70 million people. India has a population of 1200 million.
If India lacks a sporting culture, it probably makes up in other fields. So let's see the number of Nobel Laureates we have: seven - Venkatraman Ramakrishnan, Chemistry, 2009, Amartya Sen, Economics, 1998, Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar, Physics, 1983, Mother Teresa, born in Ottoman Empire, now Macedonia, Peace, 1979, Har Gobind Khorana, Physiology or Medicine, 1968, CV Raman, Physics, 1930, and Rabindranath Tagore, Literature, 1913.
Of these three were born in India but received the Nobel for their work in other nations. Ireland, with a population of 64 lakh people has an equivalent number of Nobel Laureates. The only person from the Irish list who has received his Nobel for work done elsewhere is GB Shaw.
What about films? India is the largest producer of films in the world and produces almost as many films as the next three major film producing nations - the US, Japan and China - combined. The Indian film industry, with its major centres at Mumbai, Chennai and Hyderabad, produced 1,132 feature films in 2007. In comparison, the American film industry in 2008 produced 520 feature films, Japan 418 and China 400. India has the cheapest movie tickets for any major film producing nation which explains the high cinematic churn as well as India's huge movie-going audience. It also has the cheapest ticket price averaging $0.5 (Rs 22). That's a fraction of what movie-going costs elsewhere.
The average price of a ticket in the nine other big film producing countries ranges between $2.2 in China and $11.7 in Japan. How many Indians have won Oscars? Bhanu Athaiya for Best Costume Design for Gandhi (1982), Satyajit Ray who received a honorary Academy Award in 1991, Russell Pookutty for Best Sound Mixing for Slumdog Millionaire (2008), AR Rahman for Best Score and Best Original Song (music) for Slumdog Millionaire (2008) and Gulzar for Best Song (lyrics) for Slumdog Millionaire (2008). All five have won their Oscars while working on foreign film projects.
If we are so pathetically placed, are we good at anything at all? Or are we a nation that thrives on mediocrity?
What are Indians generally known for? Thrift, hard work, sense of duty, respect for the family unit, respect for education, mathematical skills and entrepreneurial skills. In the world today, a significant number of such men are workaholic Indians. Somehow, in India, the rewards for hard work have been so hard to come by that it has made no sense to work hard. Is that why we do not do well on a world platform?
While returning home from China in the 13th Century, the world famous traveller Marco Polo arrived on the Coromandel Coast of India and entered the kingdom of the Tamil Pandyas near modern day Tanjore, where, according to custom, 'the king and his barons and everyone else all sit on the earth'. He asked the king why they 'do not seat themselves more honorably'. The king replies, 'To sit on the earth is honorable enough, because we were made from the earth and to the earth we must return.' He states that merchants and traders abound, the king takes pride in not holding himself above the law of the land, and that people travel the highways safely with their valuables in the cool of the night. Marco Polo, the inveterate traveller calls this 'the richest and most splendid province in the world,' one that, together with Ceylon, produces 'most of the pearls and gems that are to be found in the world.'
To understand India better, it has to be seen from the eyes of foreign travellers, among them Megasthenes who spent time in the court of Chandragupta Maurya, Chinese Huen-Tsang during the reigh of Harshavardhan and Fa hein around 7th Century AD. Other prominent names that come to mind are Marco Polo, an Italian, Tavernier, a Frenchman, Thomas Roe, an Englishman, Niccolo Conti, an Italian, Alberuni and Abdur Razzack, both Islamic travellers.
It is important to note that not a single Indian has travelled abroad to see for himself what the outside world held during the same period- in fact, it was considered sinful to cross the seven seas. The Indian nation, like China, has always been accused of being inward looking.
Alberuni, who visited India around the time of Mohammed Bin Tuglaq, said, "The Hindus believe that there is no country but theirs, no nation like theirs, no kings like theirs, no religion like theirs, no science like theirs. They are haughty, foolishly vain, self-conceited, and stolid. They are by nature niggardly in communicating that which they know, and they take the greatest possible care to withhold it from men of another caste among their own people, still much more, of course, from any foreigner ... Their haughtiness is such that, if you tell them of any science or scholar in Khorasan and Persis, they will think you to be both an ignoramus and a liar. If they travelled and mixed with other nations, they would soon change their mind, for their ancestors were not as narrow-minded as the present generation is."
Niccolo Conti said something similar 200 years later. "They call us Franks and say, 'While they call other nations blind, that they themselves have two eyes, and that we have but one, because they consider that they excel all others in prudence.'"
After 5000 years of looking inwards, India finally hitched itself to the global bandwagon in 1991 with the policy of liberalisation that was started by Dr Mammohan Singh. China had done so as far back as in 1978. With an authoritarian regime that brooks little tolerance, it put in place a one child norm in 1980. By 1984, the Chinese had put up a magnificent presentation winning a total of 34 medals in the Olympics. The Indian elephant has however taken baby steps, winning three medals in the 2008 Olympics. In this Olympics, the tally should be similar. The Elephant does walk slowly unlike the dragon which flies.
Og Mandino, the American author who wrote the bestselling book 'The Greatest Salesman in the World' and whose books have sold over 50 million copies and have been translated into over 25 different languages said, "You cannot rise above the level of your vision. The man who guides a pushcart through the alley to pick up bottles and stray bits of paper will remain between the shafts of his rickety card at long as he believes that he has no talent for anything else." It is important to see what we finally desire - very few Indians are watching the Olympics spectacle, less than a fraction of those who keenly watch cricket. So also are the number of Indians who watch Oscars on the day they are presented.
(Parts from http://www.storyofindia.com/Historic-Travels-Of-India1.html and http://rajeev2007.wordpress.com/2006/10/20/the-hindu-work-ethic/ and Wikipedia have been used in this post.)
More about Brijesh KalappaBrijesh Kalappa, an advocate in the Supreme Court, is the Additional Advocate General, Haryana. A former journalist, he has a wide range of interests including reading and travelling. He has worked with several legal luminaries on subjects of importance in civil, criminal, water and electoral laws and has individually represented governments, eminent individuals and major industrial houses. Gifted with the prowess for distinctive sharp-edged analysis, he has been working closely with several leaders of the Indian National Congress.
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